Who are the Marketing Experts in Professional Businesses?
post # 231 — November 3, 2006 — a Client Relations post
In recent weeks, two bloggers have raised a related and important question. Do marketers, particularly those in professional businesses, actually know anything?
Suzanne Lowe (Expertise Marketing) recently wrote
I have spent a career helping professional service firms market their experts and their collective expertise. But I have yet to hear a single person refer to their MARKETERS as experts. Do we marketers have any idea what makes one marketer more expert than the other? It’s intriguing to imagine that we could do better at identifying our hoped-for marketing team members if we thought more critically about what it takes to be a professional services marketing expert (especially since we often end up scrambling for just the right marketing talent, and we often end up settling for someone who has simply got the right number of notches on his or her marketing belt).
The amazing Seth Godin had a related post about this on October 17. He said:
Marketers and designers will be quick to tell you that marketing and design are critical to the success of any venture. That’s why it’s so sad/disturbing/surprising/wonderful to discover that so many successful ventures were created by amateurs. Yes, they were professionals at something â€¦but the marketing and design was not created by a ‘professional’. The list is long, and runs from the Boy Scouts to Google, from Nike to the New York Yankees. One possible lesson is that marketing is easy. The other, more likely lesson is that marketing is way too important to be left to professionals.).
It doesnâ€™t impugn the good intentions (or talents) of marketing directors in professional businesses to point out that, in fact, we probably KNOW very little about what works in professional firm marketing that we didnâ€™t know 20 years ago. Thereâ€™s a little bit more accumulated experience and wisdom, but not much.
Most of the advice given today (publicly and inside firms) is the same (sensible) advice that was flying around back then. If you want to check that, go back and look at the trade magazine articles in each profession concerning marketing. Youâ€™ll see the same recommendations then as you still do. Or read the old books and the new books.
My own tentative hypothesis is that professional business marketers (and consultants) probably know quite a bit about the processes of marketing (listen to your clients, get feedback, build relationships, form client teams, manage media relations, etc.) But I suspect we actually know very little about marketing itself, ie major breakthroughs in positioning, actually achieving differentiation and branding (as opposed to claiming it.)
Thinking back, I donâ€™t know what I would point to as a major MARKETING achievements in the professional world. Just as Seth Godin has pointed, I can think of many professional businesses built by the professionals themselves (i.e. the marketing amateurs), but itâ€™s very unclear (at least from the outside) what the marketing professionals contributed.
Iâ€™m not sure what I would offer as evidence of marketing experts at work. For example, I know a lot of firms have worked at improving client service and a lot of copies of my TRUSTED ADVISOR book have been bought and circulated, but I donâ€™t know which firms if any to nominate as having pulled off a distinctive client service strategy. I know a lot who have tried, but few to nominate as successes and evidence of a real expert at work.
Itâ€™s clear internal marketers have helped with various marketing processes (client feedback, media relations, sales training.) But I donâ€™t think these would qualify for Suzanne, Seth (or me) as examples of â€œinnovative, creative expertsâ€ at work.
At the other end of marketing, what are we to make of advertising? It is astounding the commitment and dollars that Accenture is showing to its Tiger Woods ads and they are VERY creative and appealing, but is there any evidence that they are working? How come none of their IT or BPO competitors are copying them? Does that prove Accenture are marketing geniuses or marketing idiots?
In other professional businesses, others are beginning to dabble with advetising. For example, two nights ago I was surprised to see a TV ad for accounting firm Grant Thornton during the evening news. Courageous and innovative? Probably. It hasnâ€™t been tried often, and the precedents are unfortunate. Brobeck, the aggressive Californian law firm did the same thing just before the tech bubble burst and the firm imploded out of existence.
One way that we could begin the discussion here is to ask the questions in a slightly different way. If we (please) exclude boasting about our own firms, our own accomplishments (or our own writing and consulting advice),
a) what would you point to as EVIDENCE that an expert, creative marketing advisor has made a real difference in a professional business?
b) what would you point to as the MARKETING successes in professional businesses over the past 20 years?